This is the third recording we’ve heard by the splendid Des Moines Big Band, now in its forty–first year, and each of them has featured a talented guest artist: first, trumpeter Bobby Shew; next, DSMBB director Jim Oatts’ New York–based brother, saxophonist Dick Oatts; and now trumpeter Walter White who composed half of the ten selections on Being There (including that one) and solos on half a dozen. White, who has occupied the lead trumpet chair in groups fronted by Maynard Ferguson, Bob James and Harry Connick Jr., among others, not only plays wonderfully, blending a gorgeous tone and unsullied technique with copious ideas, but proves an able composer as well, giving the DSMBB meaty charts in which to sink their collective chops. As White favors slow to moderate tempos bedecked with stately chorale–like passages, the only semblance of a “burner” on offer is Chris Merz’s straight–from–the–hip “Studio #11” (recorded in 1997 by the New England Jazz Ensemble and released earlier this year on Storm Before the Calm, Sea Breeze 2104). Merz also wrote the aptly named “Slinky” with its bluesy, meandering changes while pianist Jim Trompeter contributed “The Happiness You Bring,” Wayne Shorter composed the ballad “Infant Eyes” (a showcase for trombonist Paul Bridson) and Bob Washut arranged Bernstein / Sondheim’s poignant “Somewhere” from the musical West Side Story. The album was recorded at the Hoyt Sherman Auditorium in Des Moines using close miking (four B&K microphones) to enhance the balance and lend the session a “live” feeling, an aim that was definitely achieved as every section is clearly delineated without eclipsing the others. White’s compositions include “Florence,” “Most Triumphant,” “Six for You,“ “Tall Falls” and of course, “Being There.” He solos on all of them and also on “The Happiness You Bring.” Other soloists, all of whom have something pleasing to say, are pianist Sid Bos (“Florence,” “Happiness”), alto Bob Long (“Most Triumphant,” “Slinky,” soprano on “Tall Falls”), Steve O’ Brien (tenor on "Studio #11," clarinet on "Somewhere"), trumpeter Dave Kobberdahl ("Slinky"), drummer Jim Eklof ("Studio #11," "Six for You") and bassist Ross Cornelison ("Tall Falls"). The music is lovely but for the most part laid-back and inward-leaning with no Basie-esque shout choruses, knotty unison passages (except for "Studio #11") or rapid-fire tempos to inflame one's emotions. Even so, the DSMBB is a top-notch ensemble, White is a pleasure to hear as player or composer, Merz's compositions help raise the over-all temperature, and we thoroughly enjoyed Being There to eavesdrop on another engaging performance by one of the Midwest's most consistently impressive big bands.
Contact:Jim Oatts, 5139 69th St., Urbandale, IA 50322 (phone 515–251–5928).
Track Listing: Florence; Infant Eyes; Most Triumphant; Studio #11; Somewhere; Six for You; Being There; The Happiness You Bring; Slinky; Tall Falls (69:50).
Personnel: Jim Oatts, director, trumpet, flugelhorn; Bob Long, alto, soprano sax, flute; Wayne Lage, alto sax, clarinet; Steve O